Cairn Coghill: Pinot Personality

Hawke’s Bay is home to breathtaking beauty, both natural and manmade. The landscape incorporates a wealth of art deco architecture, running through rivers, alluvial plains, to the ocean and up into the mountains.

Dotted throughout this incredible scenery are some of New Zealand’s finest wineries, among them Sileni Wines – home and heart of Cairn Coghill, its senior winemaker. We asked Cairn to share his take on Pinot from the cool climate sub-regions of Hawke’s Bay, and what winemaking in Hawke’s Bay means to him.

Cairn Coghill Sileni
Cairn Coghill

A journey from coast to peak

Cairn, and Sileni, celebrate all that Hawke’s Bay has to offer. “Everything!” he says, “Everything the region provides.” And provide it does. The Hawke’s Bay is well known for its wines in New Zealand and around the world, thanks to its perfect growing conditions.

Ask Cairn about inspiring Pinot winemakers in Hawke’s Bay and he’ll give you a map, starting with Te Awanga Estate out on the coast with its sweeping ocean views. Then heading inland, with a quick stop at the top of Te Mata Peak to survey the lands, tracking the rivers, the lifeblood of many local vines, upstream towards the mountains where you will find Monowai Estate.  Then following the ranges travelling south he recommends Lime Rock and Junction Wines.


Makers and growers

If Cairn wasn’t making wine, he’d be making something. “Maybe crafting furniture,” he says, before returning his focus to the Earth (and wine). “Maybe farming. A nice sustainable farm block with some vines on it of course.”

It really is all about produce for Cairn, and for the Hawke’s Bay. “We’re a food region. We had one of the very first farmer’s markets in New Zealand, which was started by our boss, nearly 20 years ago. So anything we do as a winery ties heavily in with that food aspect, and Pinot Noir goes in very well with that and hence Pinot vines were planted around the same time.”

Something Cairn undoubtedly shares with many residents and winemakers in the Hawke’s Bay is the focus he and Sileni have on three key things. “Family, food, wine. It’s a big thing for us,” he says, preferring to enjoy the three together, at home, with beautiful local produce and a great bottle of wine.


Going against the grain (or grape)

Hawke’s Bay is historically known for its warm climate wines off the Bridge Pa Triangle, Gimblett Gravels and Havelock Hills, and Cairn and Sileni have broken that mould with their award-winning Pinots coming off the cooler sub-regions of Mangatahi, Crownthorpe and Te Awanga.

“In the New Zealand context, we see ourselves as a bit of an underdog. Within our region we definitely move against the flow and do push Pinot Noir as our flagship red wine. For us, the Pinot is the red we hang our hat on and put our passion behind,” he says.

This independent spirit seems to flow through Hawke’s Bay. “We’re not afraid of speaking our mind and getting in people’s faces to tell the bigger story. We, by default, have become storytellers, and we spend a lot of time telling the wider story of Hawke’s Bay.”

“As long as there is wine in my hand, I’ll find something to do,” says Cairn, and you can’t help but feel that ‘something’ might always have to do with winemaking.

While Pinot might not be Hawke’s Bay’s best known wine, it’s certainly included among the best loved by those in the know. And with ambassadors like Cairn sharing his passion for Hawke’s Bay, and for Pinot, it’s sure to find its way into many hands.

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